The Detroit Lions struggled in the 2021-22 season and found it difficult to play consistently, but a trip to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 10 changed everything.
Most people didn’t give the Lions a chance to play even without Ben Roethlisberger, but Detroit surprised and managed to stay tough all afternoon. The team rushed offensively over 200 meters that day. Defensively, the Lions were opportunistic, finding takeaways and making big plays at critical moments. It was the kind of full game the team hadn’t played most of the season.
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While the final result in a 16-16 draw was still a bit embarrassing, the Lions had gained great confidence to step up and go toe-to-toe with an experienced team that would eventually do enough to get into the playoffs to advance After that game, the Lions were not only more competitive on the field, but better as a team. They would finish 3-5-1, which was respectable given the 0-8 record they took into the game and last week’s bye.
As it turns out, this week was also a turning point for the entire defense. On January 10, cornerback Amani Oruwariye was asked about the future. As he explained, he’s feeling good, especially after everything seemed to change during that rainy November street game.
“The sky’s the limit. We just had our last exit meeting with the defense and that’s all we really talked about. Just building on the foundation. We definitely had a culture shift, I think, defensively at least, after the bye -Week. The Pittsburgh game,” Oruwariye said. “That was the point where we felt like the mentality had changed. We just had this ‘Lock the Gates’ mentality where our standard was higher .So we just have to build on that, just keep so many talented people here, you know how free reign is, and keep building the foundation.”
Oruwariye explained how the defense was locked that day with the phrase written on it, and that moment symbolized the turn of the entire program in Detroit. Playing during and after this game changed the mentality of the Lions and perhaps gave the team something to build on going forward.
Perhaps Aaron Glenn’s greatest credit as defensive coordinator is that he refused to back down and allow mediocrity to prevail in his group. Given the team’s big troubles, it could have been easy for the Lions to wrap up in 2021, but as of Week 10, the defense actually improved. Prior to bye week, the Lions defense had dropped 25 points or more in five games. After the bye, the Lions managed to reduce that number to three and go 2-3 in those games. Statistically, the Lions became more stingy as the season progressed, only allowing 244 passing yards per game, which was good for 24th in the NFL. They also allowed 135 rushing yards per game, good for 28th place. Perhaps more importantly, the team began generating timely insights, such as this interception that sealed safety Tracy Walker’s victory in Week 18:
This new mentality is helping lay the groundwork for the 2022 season and shows that with some fixes, Detroit’s defense could be back where it’s needed in a short amount of time.
In terms of his own future, the arrow for Oruwariye is as firmly aimed at top position as it is at defending as a whole unit. Though the cornerback was forced to miss the final weeks of the season through injury, Oruwariye’s impact from last season can still be felt in terms of the stats he has provided.
According to Pro Football Focus, Oruwariye has the fifth-lowest passer rating allowed in the NFL in individual coverage. He’s up there with the likes of JC Jackson, Jalen Ramsey and Darius Slay, some of the best of the best in the entire NFL by stats.
A sign of a great corner is how he can perform in singles coverage. To that end, Oruwariye looks like an elite player for the Lions going forward. That could be huge for the team and their ability to keep improving.
If that is indeed the case, no one will forget the moment when the idea of a trend reversal in 2021 became a reality.
CONTINUE READING: Lions Free Agent Defender declares respect for coaching staff